Williamstown Selectmen Delve into Economic Development Issue

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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New Williamstown Board of Selectman Chairman Ronald Turbin is flanked by the board's newest members, Hugh Daley, left, and Andrew Hogeland.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night decided to survey local businesses about the town’s challenges and opportunities in relation to economic development.

Continuing the theme of the recently concluded town election, the board’s two new members drove a discussion about what the town could do to generate growth.


“The town, economically, is heading in an undesirable direction,” Andrew Hogeland said during his first meeting on the board. “The question is: What can we do to turn that around.”


Hogeland and fellow newcomer Hugh Daley agreed that the process should start with an informal dialogue with stakeholders before the Selectmen initiate a formal committee or subcommittee to tackle the issue.


“I like the idea of us dividing up and having quieter conversations with different interest groups in town -- Realtors, the hospitality industry, the Clark, Williams College and maybe also contractors,” Hogeland said.


“I think once you do the self assessment, you’ll be in a better position to know what you want your committee to do.”


Daley agreed.


“We don’t want a formal meeting,” he said. “At this stage, we’re in the information gathering mode. ... We do not want to form a separate subcommittee for economic development right now. Once we have our information and a plan on how to proceed, then we might have a committee.”


The Selectmen tasked Daley with the job of meeting with the executive director of Williamstown’s Chamber of Commerce to draw a list of parties the Selectmen should engage. The plan is to have that list ready for the board’s June 9 meeting, where the Selectmen will “divvy it up” and plan individual conversations to get candid feedback they can bring back to the board.


Selectwoman Jane Patton agreed that is the right approach but cautioned that she did a version of that on her own during her first year on the board.


“It’s hard for me to say ... but this could be one of those things that might not change, and then we have to discuss what that reality looks like, distasteful though it may be to some or all of us,” Patton said.


Patton said her experience was similar to that described by Town Manager Peter Fohlin, who Daley asked at the meeting about what obstacles have met past efforts to spur development in town.


“Too quickly, these mini conversations turn into negative fault finding,” Fohlin said. “ ‘The reason we don’t have business in town is it’s the Planning Board’s fault ... or it’s the Con Comm’s fault.’ As you can imagine, there is a long, long list of culprits. All of them are only partially correct.


“The reason we are the way we are is we’ve all contributed to us being this way. If we want to change the way we are, the majority of us have to feel that way.”


Hogeland said the information gathering still needs to take place so the board can approach the problem systematically.


“For me, self assessment is where you have to start,” he said. “Part of our job is to weed out the ‘whining’ and see what’s a legitimate complaint.”


Tuesday’s meeting was the time for the board’s annual reorganization. Ronald Turbin was unanimously elected chairman, moving up from vice chairman. Jane Patton was elevated to vice chairwoman, and Hogeland was tabbed as the new secretary.


The board also OK’d several appointments to town committees: Craig Clemow and Stan Parese to the Affordable Housing Trust; Andrew Bernardy to the Agricultural Commission; Marilyn Kirby to the Fence Viewers; David Levine to the Mobile Home Rent Control Board; and Cheryl Yarter, Jeanne DiLisio and Chris Kirby to the Municipal Scholarship Committee. The Selectmen appointed Andrew Bernardy III as the town’s Constable and named Tim Kaiser as the town’s representative to the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste District.

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